Where did this beautiful holiday plant originate?
The poinsettia is a culturally and commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family that is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.
Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 meters (2 ft 0 in–13 ft. 1 in). The plant bears dark green denate leaves that measure 7–16 centimeters (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through phtoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. Reports of E. pulcherrima growing in the wild in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have yet to be confirmed by botanists.
There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.
The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuetlaxochitl, meaning “flower that grows in residues.” Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning Easter flower. In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes. In Turkey, it is called Atatürk’s flower because Ataturk, the founder of the Republic, liked this flower and made a significant contribution to its cultivation in Turkey.
The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.
Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America. They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.
Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900, opening a dairy and orchard in the Eagle Rock area. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke, developed the grafting technique, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials to promote the plants.
Until the 1990s, the Ecke family, who had moved their operation to Encinitas, California, in 1923, had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technique that made their plants much more attractive. They produced a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes’ technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant.
In 1991, a university researcher discovered the method previously known only to the Eckes and published it, allowing competitors to flourish, particularly those using low-cost labor in Latin America. The Ecke family’s business, now led by Paul Ecke III, decided to stop producing plants in the U.S., but as of 2008, they still serve about 70 percent of the domestic market and 50 percent of the worldwide market.
In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettia can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as it is kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates such as Australia, Rwanda and Malta.
The poinsettia has also been cultivated in Egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called Bent El Consul, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett.
The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts. Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.
To produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma infection—whose symptoms include the proliferation of axillary buds—is used.
Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but also bacterial and parasitic.
In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf. While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia’s toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomachand may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten. Sap introduced into the human eye may cause temporary blindness. An American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities, and furthermore that a strong majority of poinsettia exposures are accidental, involve children, and usually do not result in any type of medical treatment. POISINDEX, a major source for poison control centers, says a 50-pound (23 kg) child would have to eat 500 bracts to accumulate levels of toxins found to be harmful in experiments. An Ohio State University study showed no problems even with extremely large doses.
Today, poinsettias may be found in many different colors as well as product forms from mini poinsettias to large specimen trees and every size in between. Testifying to its success and popularity, the poinsettia is not only the most popular holiday flower, it is the number one flowering potted plant in the United States, with over 65 million plants sold nationwide in 2000.
The long production season for poinsettias (from propagation in the hot months of summer to vegetative growth and then flower bract development in the shorter days and cooler months of fall and early winter) provides a wide range of environmental conditions that can foster a series of diseases. A number of other less common diseases can cause significant problems for individual growers when favorable environmental conditions prevail. In addition to biotic agents, improper fertilization practices can cause symptoms in poinsettias.
CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME
Cherry Blossom Time
A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prumus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prumus serrulata, which is sometimes called sakura after the Japanese. Many of the varieties that have been cultivated for ornamental use do not produce fruit. Edible cherries generally come from cultivars of the related species Prumus avium ad Prumus cerasus.
A Gift of Beauty and Friendship.
The beautiful and delicate cherry blossoms cultivated in the National Mall and Memorial Parks have inspired generations of viewer since 1912. A gift from Japan, the flowering trees symbolize friendship between nations, the renewal of spring, and the ephemeral nature of life. Blooming occurs between mid-March and mid-April depending on the species of tree and annual environmental conditions.
Japan gave 3,020 cherry blossom trees as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations’ then-growing friendship, replacing an earlier gift of 2000 trees which had to be destroyed due to disease in 1910. These trees were planted in Sakura Park in Manhattan and line the shore of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. The first two original trees were planted by first lady Helen Taft and Vicountess Chinda on the bank of the Tidal Basin. The gift was renewed with another 3,800 trees in 1965. In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossom trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction (and subject of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival) when they reach full bloom in early spring.
“Hanami” is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura or ume tree. Even here in Washington, DC, when the Cherry Trees are in bloom, it’s not unusual for families or friends to gather under (or around) the trees at Tidal Basin, and have picnics (for brunch, a lunch or a dinner). It was said that this custom started during the Nara Period (710-794) when it was ume blossoms that people admired at the beginning. By the Heian Period (794–1185), cherry blossoms came to attract more attention and hanami was synonymous with sakura. From then on, in both waka and haiku, “flowers”hana meant “cherry blossoms”. The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread to samurai society and, by the Edo period, to the common people as well. A gentleman named Tokugawa Yoshimume planted areas of cherry blossom trees to encourage this. Under the sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts.
Every year the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) as it moves northward up the archipelago with the approach of warmer weather via nightly forecasts following the weather segment of news programs. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April. It proceeds into areas at the higher altitudes and northward, arriving in Hokkaido a few weeks later. Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts and turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many anopportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. The custom of hanami dates back many centuries in Japan: the eighth-century chronicle Nihon Shoki records hanami festivals being held as early as the third century CE (AD).
Most Japanese schools and public buildings have cherry blossom trees outside of them. Since the fiscal and school year both begin in April, in many parts of Honshu, the first day of work or school coincides with the cherry blossom season.
The Japan Cherry Blossom Association developed a list of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots with at least one location in every prefecture.
In Japan, cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhistic influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality; for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have often been utilized in Japanese art, magan, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. There is at least one popular folk song, originally meant for the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, titled “Sakura,” and several pop songs. The flower is also represented on all manner of consumer goods in Japan, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.
The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.
Zen Buddhism influenced them greatly giving them enlightenment for good judgment, personal growth, and self-awareness. Their exposure and immersion into philosophy and the arts expanded their perspectives and lifted them beyond the limits of their own feudal rule and culture. This is where Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct has its origins.
Bushido is the unwritten code of conduct of the Samurai. Literally, Bushido means “warrior – samurai – ways”. Bushi is a term for warrior, but directly infers a more prestigious or higher class warrior. It was the code of honour established by the ancient Japanese samurai, or noble knights who ruled Japan from the Middle Ages until as recently as 150 years ago. The samuraiwere hired mercenaries who were retained by wealthy lords or shogun to keep them in power and subdue the peasant population. They were possibly some of the fiercest fighters known throughout the history of human warfare.
The bushido code developed from a set of survival techniques into a code of deep philosophical principles that determined how the samurai would act in relation to their lords, their fellow samurai, and ultimately how they would behave in relation to each other. This set of rules, according to which the samurai would live their lives, was intrinsically tied up with the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which was the religion followed majority of the warrior samurai.
But the samurai were a much more diverse group who generally backed those feudal lords who could maintain them in the most lavish way. Despite that, over the hundreds of years of their existence, they did develop a special code of behaviour not dissimilar to that of the legendary Arthurian knights of European history during the Middle Ages.
With the demise of feudal times, the samurai disbanded, but their skills and arts were maintained by samurai families who kept their traditions alive. Those families maintained the martial skills of their ancestors along with the samurai honour code, or bushido that bound the groups of samurai warriors in a single goal. Bushido, literally “way of the warrior”, included an awareness and practice of the following seven virtues:
Justice, Bravery, Benevolence, Politeness, Veracity, Honor and Loyalty.
The school bushido of samurai show respect by speaking and acting with courtesy. We treat others with dignity and honor the rules of our family, school and nation, this also extends to the reverence they have for the cherry trees. Respect yourself, and others will respect you.
This can be translated as propriety, good manners, politeness, rite, worship or an expression of gratitude.
The Sakura kaior Cherry Blossom Society was the name chosen by young officers within the Imperial Japanese Army in September 1930 for their secret society established with the goal of reorganizing the state along totalitarian as well as militaristic lines, via a military coup d’état if necessary.
During World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people, to stoke nationalism and militarism among the populace. Even prior to the war, they were used in propaganda to inspire “Japanese spirit,” as in the “Song of Young Japan,” exulting in “warriors” who were “ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter.” In 1932, poetry by Akiko Yosano urged Japanese soldiers to endure sufferings in China and compared the dead soldiers to cherry blossoms. Arguments that the plans for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, involving all Japanese ships, would expose Japan to serious danger if they failed, were countered with the plea that the Navy be permitted to “bloom as flowers of death.” The last message of the forces on Peleliu was “Sakura, Sakura” — cherry blossoms. Japanese pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes before embarking on a suicide mission, or even take branches of the trees with them on their missions. A cherry blossom painted on the side of the bomber symbolized the intensity and ephemerality of life; in this way, the aesthetic association was altered such that falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor. The first kamikaze unit had a subunit called Yamazakura or wild cherry blossom. The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms.
In its colonial enterprises, imperial Japan often planted cherry trees as a means of “claiming occupied territory as Japanese space”.
Cherry blossoms are a prevalent symbol in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos. In tattoo art, cherry blossoms are often combined with other classic Japanese symbols like koi fish, dragons or tigers.
Japan has a wide variety of cherry blossoms, sakura; well over 200 cultivars can be found there. The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino. Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. They bloom and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The variety takes its name from the village of Somei (which is now part of Toshima in Tokyo). It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period, and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier; such depictions are anachronisms.
Winter sakura or fuyuzakura (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis) begins to bloom in the fall and continues blooming sporadically throughout the winter. It is said to be a cross between edohiganzakura, the Tokyo Higan cherry (P. incisa) and mamezakura (P. pendula).
Other categories include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. The shidarezakura, or weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
During World War II, a prisoner of war (POW) camp near the town of Cowra, located in New South Wales, Australia was the site of one of the largest prison escapes of the war, onAugust 5, 1944. During the Cowra breakout and subsequent rounding up of POWs, four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese soldiers died and 108 prisoners were wounded. The Japanese War Cemetery holding the dead from the Breakout was tended to after WWII by members of the Cowra RSL and ceded to Japan in1963. In 1971 the Cowra Tourism Development decided to celebrate this link to Japan, and proposed a Japanese Garden for the town. The Japanese government agreed to support this development as a sign of thanks for the respectful treatment of their war dead; the development also received funding from the Australian government and private entities.
The garden was designed by Ken Nakajima (1914–2000), a world-renowned designer of Japanese gardens at the time. The first stage was opened in 1979, with a second stage opened in 1986.
The gardens were designed in the style of the Edo Period and are a kaiyū-shiki or strolling garden. They are designed to show all of the landscape types of Japan. At five hectares (12 acres), the Cowra Japanese Garden is the largest Japanese garden in the Southern Hemisphere. An annual cherry blossom festival is a major event in Cowra’s tourism calendar and is held in the gardens during September.
With the Japanese diaspora to Brazil, many immigrants brought seedlings of cherry trees. In the state of Sao Paulo, which is reported to be the home of the largest Japanese community outside Japan, it is common to find the trees in Japan related facilities and some homes, usually of the cultivars Prunus serrulata ‘Yukiwari’ and Prunus serrulata variationlannesiana ‘Himalaya’. In the Parana State, located in southern Brazil, many cities received many of these immigrants, who planted the trees, as in Apucarana, Maringa, Cascave and especially in the capital city of Curitiba.
In the capital city of Parana, the first seedlings were taken by Japanese immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, but began to be planted in large quantities from the 1990s, with the opening of the Curitiba’s Botanical Garden. Now the seedlings are produced by the city and used in afforestation of streets and squares – as in the Japanese Square, where have more than 30 cherry trees around the square sent by the Japanese Empire to Curitiba.
Vancouver is famous for its thousands of cherry blossom trees lining many streets and in many parks, including Queen Elizabeth Park as well as Stanley Park. Vancouver holds the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival every year. High Park in Toronto, Ontario features many Somei-Yoshino cherry trees (the earliest species to bloom and much loved by the Japanese for their fluffy white flowers) that were given to Toronto by Japan in 1959. Through the Sakura Project, the Japanese Embassy donated a further 34 cherry trees to High Park in 2001, plus cherry trees to various other locations like Exhibition Place, McMaster University, York University, and the University of Toronto’s main and Scarborough campuses. Niagara Falls also has many near the Falls itself.
The cherry trees naturally grow in China. However, the two most famous cherry blossom parks in China reflect Japan’s brief occupation of parts of China during the first half of the 20th century or the donation from Japan thereafter:
• Longwangtang Cherry Blossom Park in Lunshun, Dalian, Liaoning;
• East Lake Cherry Blossom Park near Wuhan University, in the Donghu District, Wuhan, Hubei;
• Nanshan Botanical Garden in Nan’an District, Chongqing.
The cherry blossom is a major tourist attraction in Germany’s Altes Land Orchard region. The largest Hanami in Germany, in Hamburg, with Japanese-style fireworks, organized by the German-Japanese society, draws tens of thousands spectators every spring.
In the year 2000, the Japan Women’s Club (JWC) donated 400 cherry blossom trees to the city of Amstelveen. The trees have been planted in the Cherry blossom park in the Amsterdamse Bos. A special detail is that every tree has a name — 200 trees have female Japanese names, 200 trees have female Dutch names.
Watching of cherry blossom was introduced to Korea during Japanese rule. The festivals continued even after the Japanese surrendered in WWII, but have been contentious, and many cherry trees have been destroyed because they were seen as symbols of the occupation. However, there has been considerable confusion about the origin of the cultivated Japanese cherry trees and the differences between them and native Korean trees.Certain trees at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, were cut down to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Japanese surrender in World War II. Although Cherry blossoms are already indigenous to Korea, Japan had planted trees on sacred and offensive locations in the Palace. Once the offending trees were cut down the festival continued with the indigenous trees. The cherry blossom festival at Gyeongbok Palace is one of a number of such festivals across Korea and is prominently advertised to tourists.
In 2005, Japanese cherry trees were presented by Japan to the Nezahat Gokyigit Botanical Garden in Istanbul, Turkey. Each tree represents one sailor of Ertugrul Frigate which was a famous frigate of the Ottoman/Turkish navy. She had encountered a typhoon on the way back from a goodwill visit to Japan in 1890. That heavy weather condition caused her to sink. That disaster resulted with unfortunate loss of 587 Ottoman/Turkish sailors. That unfortunate occurrence is being remembered in every anniversary. The Japanese Cherry Trees represent memory of those passed away and provide remembrance.
Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire, located in England, holds the national collection of Japanese village cherries, sato-sakura group. Keele University in Staffordshire, also in England, has one of the UK’s largest collections of flowering cherries, with more than 150 varieties.
Branch Broks Park in Newark, New Jersey is the oldest county park in the United States and is home the nation’s’ largest collection of cherry blossom trees, with about 4,300.
Balboa Park of San Diego has 2,000 cherry blossom trees that blossom in mid to late March. In Los Angeles, over 2,000 trees are located at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys. These trees were donated by an anonymous Japanese benefactor and were planted in 1992. They originated from a single parent tree and were developed to grow in warm climates.
Philadelphia is also home to over 2000 flowering Japanese cherry trees, half of which were a gift from the Japanese government in 1926 in honor of the 150th anniversary of American independence, with the other half planted by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia between 1998 and 2007. Philadelphia’s cherry blossoms are located within Fairmont Park, and the annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia celebrates the blooming trees. Seattle’s University of Washington also has cherry blossoms in its Quad.
Other US cities have an annual Cherry Blossom Festival (or Sakura Matsuri), including the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia, which features over 300,000 cherry trees. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City also has a large, well-attended festival. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the site of the peace conference that produced the Treaty of Portsmouth, for which the original Washington, DC cherry trees were given in thanks. Several cherry trees planted on the bank of the tidal pond next to Portsmouth City Hall were the gift of Portsmouth’s Japanese sister city of Nichinan the hometown of Marquis Komura Jutaro, Japan’s representative at the conference. Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, has 200 somei yoschino trees, a gift from its sister institution, Japan’s Chubu University.
Cherry blossoms and leaves are edible and both are used as food ingredients in Japan:
• The blossoms are pickled in salt and Umezu (Ume vinegar), and is used for coaxing out flavor in Wagashi, (a traditional Japanese confectionery,) or Anpan, (a Japanese sweet bun, most-commonly filled with red bean paste.)
• Salt-pickled blossoms in hot water is called Sakuray, and is drunk at festive events like weddings in place of Green tea.
• The leaves are mostly from the Oshima cherry because of the softness, are also pickled in salted water and used for Sakuramochi..
Since the leaves contain Coumarin, which is toxic in large doses, it is not recommended to eat them in great quantities.
Cherry Blossoms are some of the most beautiful flowers, coming in bright colors. The Cherry Blossom tree in full bloom, during the arrival of spring, is one of the most beautiful sights to behold.The Cherry Blossom is so popular that festivals are celebrated in its honor- the Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrated in the months of March and April.
The Cherry Blossom is Japan’s unofficial National Flower. Somei Yoshino is a favorite Cherry Blossom variety of the Japanese. The flowers are almostpure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem.
The Somei Yoshino Cherry Blossoms bloom, and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out. The trees look nearly white from top to bottom. Other Cherry Blossom varieties include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura Cherry Blossom have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals.
The shidarezakura Cherry Blossom, or weeping Cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
The Japanese Cherry starts flowering profusely from the first warmer days in April, heralding the coming of spring. The pink or white flowers grow in racemose clusters at nodes on short spurs. They are past flowering early in May.
The Cherries can be divided into three groups – the European, the American, and the Oriental. In general, the Oriental types (Prunus serrulata) are less hardy. This genus – Prunus comprises over 400 species and numerous cultivars of trees and shrubs growing in temperate climates mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.
It includes evergreen shrubs, flowering fruit trees, and all the stone fruits – almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, and prunes. They are also very ornamental.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual celebration in Washington, D.C., commemorating the March 27, 1912, gift to the city of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to strengthen the growing friendship between the United States and Japan.
There are many events that are encompassed in this festival, such as a Kite Flying Contest, a marathon, Cherry Blossom parade and so much more.
Washington, DC welcomes the arrival of spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a tradition that showcases the beautiful gift of 3,000 cherry trees that the city of Tokyo gave to our nation’s capital. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual three-week, city-wide event featuring more than 200 international cultural performances and over 90 other special events. From arts and exhibits to cuisine and sports, there is something for everyone to enjoy!
The blossoming cherry trees symbolize the arrival of spring and brighten the area surrounding the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin with their vibrant pale pink and white flowers.
Cherry Blossoms are rooted deep in the culture of Japan and were used in ancient Japan to forecast how crops for the coming year would do. Modern Japan still celebrates Hanami – gatherings of friends to picnic under a canopy of Cherry Blossoms, enjoying the brief burst of the beauty of nature and springtime. Through the centuries, the Japanese have developed many different varieties of the Cherry tree. All of these trees bloom for a short time with pink or white flowers. Cherries are part of the rose family and like roses, most cherry trees bloom during the spring. A few varieties are grown to flower later and actually show their blossoms in autumn or even during winter! Normally, it is just a week to ten days before all of the blossoms are carried away by the wind.
Growing Cherry Blossoms
Cherries are propagated by budding them on seedling stocks in the nursery and are sold for planting stock as one or two-year-old trees. Sweet and Sour Cherries are fairly easy to grow. Sour Cherries, which are smaller and more tolerant of cold and heat, are easier to grow than sweet Cherries.
Sour cherries are self-pollinating so you don’t have to plant two kinds. Sour Cherries also bloom later, which makes them less vulnerable to harm from late spring frosts.
• Because of the fact that Cherry Blossom trees bloom early in spring and are susceptible to damage from late spring frosts, the site for growing Cherries should be slightly higher and sloped than the surrounding ground to prevent frosty air from settling in the low spots.
• Cherry Blossom trees should be placed in a sheltered location with full sun, in soil that is deep, fertile and moist, but well drained.
• Full sun exposure for Cherry Blossom trees is necessary to produce delicious Cherries and strong trees.
• Cherry Blossom trees grown in shade will produce spindly branches and fewer cherries that are less sweet.
• Sweet and sour Cherries are susceptible to most of the same problems.
Washington, DC Cherry Tree information
It took the coordination of many to ensure the arrival of the cherry trees. The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but did not deter the parties. Between the governments of the two countries, coordination by Dr. JokichiTakamine, a world-famous chemist and the founder of Sankyo Co., Ltd. (today know as Daiichi Sankyo), Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eliza Scidmore, first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and First Lady Helen Herron Taft, more than 3,000 trees arrived in Washington in 1912. In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and ViscountessChinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.
Over the years, gifts have been exchanged between the two countries. In 1915, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle. Japanese horticulturists were given cuttings from the trees to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed in a flood.
Since First Lady Taft’s involvement, the nation’s first ladies have been proponents of the Festival. Historically, many were involved in events through the National Conference of State Societies’ Princess Program. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower crowned Queen Janet Bailey in 1953, and in 1976 Betty Ford invited the princesses to the White House. In 1965, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 Yoshino trees from the government of Japan and held a tree planting reenactment. All first ladies in recent years have served as Honorary Chair, many participating as well. In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton took part in a tree planting ceremony. In 2001, First Lady Laura Bush greeted guests with remarks at the Opening Ceremony. Honorary Chair First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in 2012, planting a cherry tree in West Potomac Park among dignitaries and guests.
Today’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown from modest beginnings into the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. A group of American school children reenacted the initial planting and other activities, effectively holding the first “festival” in 1927. The festivities grew again in 1935, sponsored by civic groups in the nation’s capital. The Festival was expanded to two weeks in 1994 to accommodate a diverse activity schedule during the blooming period. Over the years, millions have participated in Festival events and viewed the flowering cherry trees. In 2012, the Festival expanded to five weeks (from 16 days in recent previous years) to provide a grand tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the gift of trees. Today, more than 1.5 million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and participate in diverse programming that heralds spring in the nation’s capital.
Today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is coordinated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival Inc., an umbrella organization consisting of a coalition of business, civic, and governmental organizations. Since the National Park Service has been keeping records of the blooming dates, the earliest blooming date has been March 15, 1990, and the latest date was marked on April 18, 1958. The average blooming date–that time when the blooms are considered to reach their peak–is April 5 for the Yoshino and April 22 for the double flowering Kwansan trees, mostly seen in East Potomac Park.
The Alchemy of Fragrances
There are deep and mysterious relationships among the soil, water, sunlight, and
air, and the bodies of plants that absorb and transform these elements. There are
wondrous alchemies in the transmutation of these elements by plants into foods,
medicines, and fragrances.
An aromatic plant creates its fragrance from nutrients of the soil and its symbiotic
microbial ecologies. When we breathe that perfume, we are breathing the breath of
the living soil.
An aromatic plant creates its fragrance from radiant solar energy, in a biorhythm
set in motion by the sun, moon, and stars. When we breathe that perfume, we are
breathing the breath of the celestial heavens.
An aromatic plant creates its fragrance from springs, dew, rains, snowmelt, and
underground streams. When we breathe that perfume, we are breathing the breath
of the living waters.
An aromatic plant creates its fragrance from wind and breezes. When we breathe
that perfume, we are breathing the breath of the sky.
There are deep and mysterious relationships among the movement of the heavens,
the environmental elements, the aromatic molecules created by the plants, and the
atmosphere that is their medium of travel.
There is a deep and mysterious relationship between the atmosphere and the human breath.
There are deep and mysterious relationships among the aromatic molecules
traveling through the atmosphere, the human breath, and the neurochemical
changes that occur as fragrances enter the brain.
There is a deep and mysterious relationship between the neurochemical changes
created by the aromatic molecules in the brain, and the effects these have on
There are deep and mysterious relationships among the movements of
consciousness, the fluctuations of mentation, and the flow of time and space.
Ultimately these are one living mystery, from the movement of the heavens to the
creation of reality by the human mind. Knowing this, we can purify the world.
Putrid, fetid, rancid, noxious, repulsive, and unpleasant odors arise from conditions
of poverty and hunger, war and violence, ignorance and unawareness, lack of
sanitation, and toxic pollution. They are the breath of pathogens, the smell of
epidemics, and the scent of death. They cause unhappiness, agitation, aggression,
and dullness in the human mind.
Fresh, clean, attractive, enjoyable, and pleasant smells arise from conditions of
environmental stewardship and ecological balance, sanitation and cleanliness,
social and spiritual well-being. They are the breath of health and the scent of
vitality. They cause happiness, serenity, compassion, and greater awareness in the
To transform the growing realms of human misery to realms of happiness and
fulfillment of human potential, we must now wisely cooperate to plant gardens
perfumed with beautiful fragrances and living pharmacies of aromatic medicines.
Humanity does not need more weapons. It needs balms of lavender, rose, and
neroli that promote peaceful sleep, reduce stress and tension, calm anxiety and
nervousness, pacify irritation and anger, and free the mind from depression and
The world does not need more disease-causing toxic chemicals and mutated
biological experiments, concocted in secrecy and spread across the globe in
defiance of scientific reason, human sanity, public health, and democratic process.
It needs unguents of frankincense and vetiver that cool fevers and inflammation. It
needs elixirs of osha, rosemary, and ginger that stimulate and strengthen the
immune system, and purifying essences of pine, fir, spruce, and cedar that disinfect
the mucous membranes. It needs salves of helichrysum, chamomile, and champa
that cure skin diseases.
Society does not need more electronic gadgets, microwave-based communication
systems, high-tech entertainment devices, faster computers, and fancier software.
We need to anoint each other with fragrances that promote emotional openness,
quiet the mind, build inner strength, overcome isolation, enhance intimacy, and
support truthful communication. We need noble aphrodisiacs of sandalwood,
jasmine, and lotus that help men transform pathological lust into passionate love,
and help women transform their fear and hatred of men’s violence, aggression, and
stupidity into nourishing powerful sensuality.
When peaceful cities are blessed with myriad sweet floral scents, when healthy
forests are filled with balsamic coniferous perfumes, when farms are enveloped in
the earthy aromas of healthy soil and robust crops, when homes are infused with
temple essences that bring joy and tranquility, we will understand why the ancients
taught that plants were gifts from heaven.